Busy Chelsea Cafe has special mission

Obscured by the array of Spanish culinary lunch spots that pepper Broadway is a little cafe with a booming catering business that has a one-of-a-kind mission to teach people with developmental delays on-the-job culinary skills to maximize their individual potential and independence.

Essence of Thyme Cafe and Catering of Chelsea — along with its two sister locations in Hyde Park and Nashua, NH — employs professional chefs who cook delicious meals but also teach people with developmental disabilities a lucrative way around the kitchen. Employees learn how to cook, clean, organize themselves and learn the vocation of running not only a kitchen but compete in a catering business as well. Other clients make the creative, clever arts and crafts that are sold in the stores as well.

The individuals trained at ETC staff the cafes and prepare breakfast and lunch for locals who stop by, but are also an integral part of the successful expanding school lunch catering business that has prepared over 700 meals a day and has delivered hot breakfasts and lunches to private and charter school all over the state for nearly 20 years. ETC staff also operated the corporate cafeteria at Oracle in Burlington and Nashua for more than a decade.

These ETC individuals help the company compete daily in the catering business — and often win. The company is expanding with more accounts.

“The skills learned at ETC transfer to many other community kitchens so that real jobs can be obtained once the training is completed,” said Cindy Anderson, the food service director.  “The training helps the individuals gain economic independence and gives them a feeling of self-worth because they have a needed, valued skill. It also increases their economic independence so that they can fully participate in their community.”

ETC delights in preparing delectable, healthful wraps and sandwiches (gourmet interpretations of Not Your Mother’s Tuna, a Rare Roast Beef piled high accentuated with cream cheese and a year-round Thanksgiving Wrap) that are sold daily at very reasonable prices.

ETC of Chelsea is located inside the historic Bloomberg building, which also houses a day habilitation program and affordable housing apartments, all of which are run by TILL Inc., (Toward Independent Living and Learning) a large human service agency based in Dedham.

ETC has also become a fast friend in the Chelsea community. Last year, it participated in the annual “Taste of Chelsea.” In November, it hosted a forum for city council candidates to address the business community. It also has watercolor paintings from an award winning local artist, Paul McMahan, adorning its walls. And its architects that renovated its impressive building recently received a national award for historic preservation.

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